I recently watched David Lynch’s Inland Empire, which had been sitting on my list for quite some time. When looking into Lynch’s work I’m always assured that the next film for me to watch is “the really incomprehensible one”, or where his surrealist style finally “goes to far”. As with the rest of his works, that was far from my experience with Inland Empire, which I very much enjoyed. One could view Inland Empire as the last of an “LA Trilogy”, also including Lost Highway and Mulholland Drive, which is among my absolute favourite films. All of these films feature neo-noir elements, denial or distortion dof reality, some aspect of filmmaking within the story, and the city of LA itself. Inland Empire is unique in a few ways. Most immediately noticeable is that the entire film is shot on handheld digital, giving it a deliberately low budget feel that adds to the surrealistic tone – one feels like they are watching uncomfortable home movies or obscure pornography. Much of the film is also set in Poland, adding a very different visual style to much of the backdrops.
Like many of Lynch’s later works, the film does not have a linear plot, but in general, it is about an actress who takes a role in a “cursed film”, interweaving abuses both old and new. Lynch is perhaps my favourite director because he, more than anyone else, understands that film is a visual medium, and every frame could be used as a strange and surrealist painting. This is what always frustrates me about discussions regarding Lynch, with many complaining that without a cohesive narrative there can be no plot to tell, or those who claim to love his work but assert that it “doesn’t need to make sense.”
Just because Lynch relies much more on the visual (and auditory, for that matter) parts of filmmaking does not automatically mean that he is not a storyteller. One can get a clear sense of story from a single image, and series of images. Why I love Lynch so much is he understands that as visuals are much more open to interpretation, it gives free reign to the filmmaker to start speaking in their own unique languages.
But, in the end, I have to unfortunately agree with the rest of the discussion and admit that LA trilogy films are much a matter of taste. If you love Lynch and haven’t seen it, don’t be scared off – Inland Empire is engrossing to follow along its twisting path. I just want to voice my appreciation here for a filmmaker who is so willing to offer something that very few others are.